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Big, Funny, and Proud, a guest post by Rebecca Elliott

That’s my character Haylah in my book Pretty Funny for a Girl. And I don’t necessarily mean “big” in the physical sense, although Haylah (known as “Pig” to her friends) is dealing with body confidence issues surrounding her plus-size figure. She’s big in her personality, ambitions, opinions, and passions. I wrote the character as a reaction to the message we are so often spoon-fed—that girls are pretty, meek, innocent, and sweet, or else they are slutty and objectified. Either way, girls are passive and not yet a fully formed thing, and when they are, they’re past their best.

WHAT A LOAD OF BALL-BAGS!

This narrow description, consistently shoved in our faces by the media and society, literally fits NO teenage girl I have ever met. EVER.

Girls are exciting and passionate and strong and ambitious and fierce and wonderfully weird and a hundred different things in any given moment. And girls are funny. So frickin’ funny. Yet often the girls who know they’re funny, know they’re clever, know their personality is brighter and bigger than any room could possibly hold still feel like a no one. Why? Because the crappy societal pressures, ever more present in today’s Instagrammy world, tell them they don’t live up to the impossible and downright dull expectations we put on girldom.

Using stand-up comedy, which is a big fear for a lot of people, seemed like a good way to explore my main character’s bravery, not in a dystopian-hero-saving-the-world kind of way, but in more of a relatable way. Even if it’s not a career readers are interested in, I think there’s so much in stand-up that teens can identify with: the intense vulnerability and the desire to be noticed and heard but not to be judged. Plus it’s a good excuse to make a lot of jokes and hopefully make readers laugh. Because, as Haylah says, “When you find the funny in this serious world that is so often full of pain and cruelty, it’s like discovering a diamond in a cave of crap. It’s precious.”

So aside from my own life-long love of comedy, this is another reason why I chose to have Haylah deal with both body image and her confidence as a comedian at the same time. Because girls are already in many ways standing on a stage feeling like the world is staring at them and judging them, and I wanted my character to voluntarily take that leap onto centre stage and find the confidence to proudly be herself, to say, “This is me, with all my perfect imperfections, and dammit I have a voice and deserve to be heard!”

I very much didn’t want the body image thing to be the central theme of the book. So often when plus-size female characters are the main protagonists of books and movies, their weight is the major factor, the main narrative hook to hang everything else from. But guess what: when you are bigger, that usually isn’t the main thrust of your own narrative  (and I certainly never wanted to lead her towards some “happy” ending where she loses the weight and all is well with her world—like thin people have it all sorted too!).

Yes, Haylah feels that she’s big and at times wrestles with the way that makes people perceive her, but for the most part she’s quite happy with herself and what she thinks about way more than the way she looks is her ambition to do something amazing—become a stand-up comedian. I only wish that the way we look, particularly for teenagers, could take a back seat to the way more important stuff, like our passions and ambitions.

Whilst, as with most of us, Haylah may always struggle a little with her body confidence, I think she’d also say that one of the coolest realisations as a feminist is that there is no right or wrong way for a girl to look, to dress, to act, so be you big, small, loud, shy, “masculine,” “feminine,” high-heeled and preened, DM-wearing and pierced, and anything and everything in-between and outside—it’s ALL GOOD, and it’s all beautiful. We are sold, particularly on social media, the ideal of “perfection,” whereas the message should, of course, and particularly in respect to teenagers already bombarded by judgement and pressure, be that YOU ARE PERFECT REGARDLESS. By getting on stage and being the girl she is, nothing more, nothing less, Haylah isn’t proving that she thinks herself perfect, but that she’s happy in her own skin; as Sophia Bush so eloquently put it, “You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress, simultaneously.”

So I hope one of the central themes of the books is screw the haters, screw the ridiculous expectations of society and social media, the only opinion of you that matters is your own opinion. So be whoever the hell you want to be and be proud—shoulders back, tits out, and go show the world who you really are.

I hope the book resonances with readers, and particularly those closest to my heart—the gobby, opinionated, wildly inappropriate, larger-than-life girls who make you laugh until you pee your pants. The girls who need to shake off society’s ridiculous expectations of them, jump under the spotlight and crack on with joyously wobbling their funny bits in the face of life.

Meet Rebecca Elliott

REBECCA ELLIOTT is an author and illustrator of many picture books and The Owl Diaries early chapter book series. Pretty Funny for a Girl is her first YA novel. She earned a degree in philosophy and once did a brief stint in a dull office. Now, she enjoys eating angel delight, loudly venting on a drum kit, and spending time in her sunny garden. She lives in England with her family, some chickens, and a cat named Bernard.

Find Rebecca’s book at Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/pretty-funny-for-a-girl/9781682631478

Rebecca’s site/social:

https://www.rebeccaelliott.com/

https://www.instagram.com/rebecca_elliott_author/

Facebook

@BecElliott

About Pretty Funny For a Girl

Pretty Funny for a Girl

A candid and laugh-out-loud journey of family, friends, and fierce mistakes.

Haylah Swinton is an ace best friend, a loving daughter, and an incredibly patient sister to a four-year-old nutcase of a brother. Best of all, she’s pretty confident she’s mastered making light of every situation—from her mom’s new boyfriend to unsolicited remarks on her plus-sized figure. Haylah’s learning to embrace all of her curvy parts and, besides, she has a secret: one day, she’ll be a stand-up comedian star.

So when impossibly cool and thirstalicious Leo reveals he’s also into comedy, Haylah jumps at the chance to ghost-write his sets. But is Leo as interested in returning the favor? Even though her friends warn her of Leo’s intentions, Haylah’s not ready to listen—and she might just be digging herself deeper toward heartbreak. If Haylah’s ever going to step into the spotlight, first she’ll need to find the confidence to put herself out there and strut like the boss she really is.

Rebecca Elliott’s hilarious and authentic narrative voice is sure to capture readers’ hearts as her plus-sized, teenage heroine navigates learning to love the body she’s in while dealing with friends, family, and boys.

ISBN-13: 9781682631478
Publisher: Peachtree Publishing Company
Publication date: 10/01/2020
Age Range: 12 – 16 Years

Book Review: My Eyes Are Up Here by Laura Zimmermann

Publisher’s description

My Eyes Are Up Here is a razor-sharp debut about a girl struggling to rediscover her sense of self in the year after her body decided to change all the rules.

If Greer Walsh could only live inside her head, life would be easier. She’d be able to focus on excelling at math or negotiating peace talks between her best friend and . . . everyone else. She wouldn’t spend any time worrying about being the only Kennedy High student whose breasts are bigger than her head.

But you can’t play volleyball inside your head. Or go to the pool. Or have confusingly date-like encounters with the charming new boy. You need an actual body for all of those things. And Greer is entirely uncomfortable in hers.

Hilarious and heartbreakingly honest, My Eyes Are Up Here is a story of awkwardness and ferocity, of imaginary butterflies and rock-solid friends. It’s the story of a girl finding her way out of her oversized sweatshirt and back into the real world.

Amanda’s thoughts

It’s not right to say that I’ve been in a reading slump. I’ve been in a life slump (I write, gesturing at everything all around us causing these feelings). Books are, as they always have been, where I seek refuge. But I set aside a lot of them these days because they just aren’t right. I find myself reading horror, because it’s so far removed from reality, or books on depression, because why not really lean into this. I shift my TBR pile around like maybe I will make it land in some magically appealing configuration that will engage me long enough to get out of my own head.

Not only did this book do just that, but getting out of her own head is something that Greer, the main character here, also needs to do. I won’t say she overthinks things, but she is rather consumed with thoughts about her boobs. Her best guess is she’s a 30H, and her boobs quite literally get in the way of her life. They are both physically uncomfortable and mentally?… theoretically?… emotionally? uncomfortable. She’s worried they’re all people can see when they look at her and she spends her life hiding under giant sweatshirts, trying to make herself smaller or maybe invisible.

I was a hardcore My So-Called Life fan. It came out when I was around 17 and felt so SEEN by it. One of the best lines is, “So when Rayanne Graff told me my hair was holding me back, I had to listen. ‘Cause she wasn’t just talking about my hair. She was talking about my life.” For Greer, it’s not her hair, it’s her boobs. But the same idea applies. She sticks to what she knows she’s good at—school and really only being friends with the outspoken and argumentative Maggie. She sort of gets used to living a smaller life than she’d maybe like because she’s being held back, because she’s holding herself back.

But a cute (and funny and smart) new boy, Jackson, seems to maybe like her, and Greer definitely likes him, but she can’t imagine actually pursuing things with him because her boobs will get in the way. Again. Like, she panics at the idea of physical intimacy and possibly ever revealing just what’s under the big sweatshirts. And she worries her boobs are all anyone notices (though she really needs to give Jackson more credit because he’s pretty much a perfect YA novel boyfriend). And she even backs out of going to a formal dance with him because there is no way she will ever find a dress that will fit her body.

Greer is rather shocked to find out she has an aptitude for volleyball and that she actually wants to make the team. But again, it’s her body that holds her back. All of her bras seem horrible and completely mess up her ability to play the game. Even when she finally gets a good bra, the team jersey is just WAY too tight for her to wear. Eventually Greer has to decide if she’s going to let her body stop her from experiencing life or just learn to deal with what she has and see what happens.

While this is so much about self-esteem and bodies, it’s also about finding new interests and making new friends. Greer learns to see herself as a team of girls (and not just literally as part of a volleyball team of girls), she learns how to stand up for other girls and let other girls have her back. And while it’s easy to say things like “all bodies are good bodies” and want someone to feel nothing but 100% positive about 100% of the pieces that make up a body, we all know it’s much more complicated than that. It’s complicated for me as an adult, never mind how complicated it was for me at 15, like Greer. Greer talks about finding YouTubers who share her experience and how one isn’t angry at her body but is angry on behalf of her body (she doesn’t need her body to be “better” or different, but she needs the world to be better and different), and for the most part, much of how Greer feels reflects that—she wishes she could find better bras, that clothes come truly made for a bigger variety of shapes, that society’s obsession with women’s bodies isn’t the way it is. But she also really would like her body to be different, to cause her less physical pain, to fit better, to feel better. She’s not ashamed so much as she’s 15, so much as she’s built so unlike anyone around her, so much as she’s just trying to figure out how to fit in her own body—the way so many of us have to figure this out.

Not only is this book well-written with great banter and interesting secondary characters, but I suspect it will speak to all readers in SOME way, since it’s very likely we all have a “thing” we obsess over or grapple with with our own bodies. A smart and honest look at the various ways we hide ourselves as well as an empowering look at strong friendships. Highly recommended.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781984815248
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 06/23/2020
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

So I Guess Now I’m Someone Who Talks About Boobs, a guest post by Laura Zimmermann

Somehow, as I was writing a book about a girl with uncomfortably large breasts, I didn’t anticipate how much people were going to want to talk to me about breasts. Strangers. Neighbors. Mammography techs. Usually their own. Occasionally someone else’s.

To be clear, there are other things to talk about in the book, too. Greer, the narrator of My Eyes Are Up Here, leads a full and complex life of ideas, relationships, responsibilities, and a range of human characteristics. She’s got an excellent best friend who thrives on confrontation. She’s super good at math and skeptical about the quality of the Spanish language instruction she’s getting at school. There’s a new boy who is relying on her to shortcut his acclimation to school. There’s some drama with the drama kids (as is often the case), who are performing an outdated and sexist musical (as is often the case). There’s quite a lot of volleyball. I could talk about volleyball all day.

Greer is confident in a lot of ways and painfully unsure of herself in other ways—like most of us are when we are on the way to adulthood. Like many of us are even now. And finding the way through is what this book is about.

….but there are also breasts. And, it turns out, a lot of people who want to talk about them.

Please indulge a sidebar here to note that once you start talking about breasts, you quickly run into a vocabulary problem. In most cases, I am a proponent of calling body parts by their proper (but non-Latin) names, with the exception of refusing to say “abdominal pain” when what I really mean is “tummy ache.” In the case of breasts, however, unless we are talking about surgery, feeding a baby, or self-exams, a lot of people don’t use the word. “Breasts” are what is still staggeringly susceptible to cancer, or the driest part of a chicken. It sounds clinical. (Or culinary.)

Most women I know say “boobs” instead. I try to be little careful, so as not to appear cavalier (especially in my new role as boob confidant), and because I don’t believe it feels right coming from, say, the guy who works at the animal hospital behind my house. There is a near endless list of other names ranging from cutesy to deeply misogynistic, and probably a dissertation in the works somewhere examining that list. In regard to My Eyes Are Up Here, you could go super clinical and say “macromastia,” but then only librarians, my editor, or other word-loving nerds would know what you were talking about. So please forgive boobs. (In the book, Greer often refers to hers as Maude and Mavis. This, unfortunately, is not a solution that scales to wider discussion.)

I wasn’t always someone who was comfortable talking about bodies—especially not mine. Like Greer, who spends each day under the cover of an extra-large sweatshirt, I spent my high school years doing anything to divert attention from my body: big, drapey clothes; the posture of a Disney crone; no swimming without a t-shirt. I went to chiropractors for my back, to orthopedic doctors for my neck, I took a lot of Tylenol for everything. I stretched and did physical therapy to strengthen my core, in case the real reason my shoulders hurt was because my abs were weak. I ran with two sports bras at once, which is the Spandex equivalent of a python. I didn’t own a tank top. When I got invited to a formal event, my mom sewed me a purple taffeta sleeping bag with a pretty lace collar. It was a weird thing for a 19-year-old person to wear to a fancy party, but it was very nice of her to sew it to my specifications. Even after I had breast reduction, I let all my coworkers believe I was having back surgery. (Most people come back from back surgery with all new shirts, right?)

Over a long time, I got more comfortable. I mean that both physically and not physically.

And then came this book. One of the first things people learn about Greer is what makes her so uncomfortable in her own skin (the cover and title help with that). Early on, I wondered if that it might make it uncomfortable to talk about—though to be honest, that’s also exactly why I wanted to write it in the first place. But a few things have surprised me. The first is the number of people who readily chime with their own experiences, as though they’ve been waiting to be asked. Sometimes it’s about breast surgery (way more common than you think), or a funny or painful story about their own Maudes and Mavises. (One friend described an embarrassing net fault playing volleyball. Her team essentially lost a point because she wasn’t a B-cup and got too close to the net on a block.)

Sometimes someone will tell me that she had “the opposite problem,” meaning that she felt self-conscious because she was flat-chested. But’s that’s not the opposite; it’s really kind of the same. I know this because it’s never really about boobs at all. It’s about being too big or too small or too slow or too hairy or simply too much in the eyes of somebody else. It’s about wishing your body or your face or your skin or your walk or your voice fit a mold. And then, hopefully, realizing that it doesn’t have to.

The second thing that’s surprised me is how much I love these connections, these tiny revelations from friends or strangers. When someone launches unbidden into a tale about underwires or nursing a baby or trying out those weird strapless adhesive things, I am all in. And I come back with perspective on built-in shelf bras or the magic of lanolin or a vow to never try those weird strapless adhesive things. I love how quickly we find solidarity in vulnerability, and how maybe solidarity can create invulnerability. It is not uncomfortable; it’s a relief.

There was a time I would have dropped to the floor and hidden under a rack of underwear rather than tell the lady at Nordstrom what size I was looking for. But now? I guess now I’m someone who talks about boobs.

Meet Laura Zimmermann

Photo by Jeff Wheeler

Laura is a writer, a storyteller, and a maker of cheesecakes. You might find her at a softball game, a jazz concert, or a nonprofit board meeting, but you’ll never find her on a ladder or entering a triathlon. She is a multi-time winner of Moth and WordSprout story slams, and has frequently shared stories on the Twin Cities Listen To Your Mother stage. Her debut YA novel, My Eyes Are Up Here, will be published by Dutton Books in June 2020. She lives in Minneapolis with her three favorite people, who show up in her stories whether they like it or not.

My website is laurazimmermannbooks.com

My Twitter is @laurazimbooks

Instagram is @laurazimbooks

Laura suggests purchasing her book from her favorite local indie, Red Balloon Books in St. Paul.

About My Eyes Are Up Here

“An original, feminist, and timely first choice title for all libraries serving teens,” School Library Journal starred review.

To see Amanda’s review, hop over here!

My Eyes Are Up Here is a razor-sharp debut about a girl struggling to rediscover her sense of self in the year after her body decided to change all the rules.

If Greer Walsh could only live inside her head, life would be easier. She’d be able to focus on excelling at math or negotiating peace talks between her best friend and . . . everyone else. She wouldn’t spend any time worrying about being the only Kennedy High student whose breasts are bigger than her head.

But you can’t play volleyball inside your head. Or go to the pool. Or have confusingly date-like encounters with the charming new boy. You need an actual body for all of those things. And Greer is entirely uncomfortable in hers.

Hilarious and heartbreakingly honest, My Eyes Are Up Here is a story of awkwardness and ferocity, of imaginary butterflies and rock-solid friends. It’s the story of a girl finding her way out of her oversized sweatshirt and back into the real world.

ISBN-13: 9781984815248
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 06/23/2020
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Book Review: Pointe, Claw by Amber J. Keyser

Publisher’s description

pointe-clawJessie Vale dances in an elite ballet program. She has to be perfect to land a spot with the professional company. When Jessie is cast in an animalistic avant-garde production, her careful composure cracks wide open. Nothing has felt more dangerous.

Meanwhile, her friend Dawn McCormick’s world is full of holes. She wakes in strange places, bruised, battered, and unable to speak. The doctors are out of ideas.

These childhood friends are both running out of time. Jessie has one shot at her ballet dream. Dawn’s blackouts are getting worse. At every turn, they crash into the many ways girls are watched, judged, used, and discarded. Should they play it safe or go feral?

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Take my advice on this, please: read Carrie Mesrobian’s Just a Girl, Elana Arnold’s What Girls Are Made Of, and Amber Keyser’s Pointe, Claw all in a row just like I did. Especially taken together like this, they build a powerful examination of girlhood.

 

Amber and I are agency-mates and here is something from her bio there: “Amber is a former ballerina with a masters degree in zoology and a doctorate in genetics; she lives in Portland, Oregon.” I tell you this to say that really only Amber could have written this unique and very weird (I mean that in the best way) book. Pointe, Claw takes place in Portland and involves a ballerina and a girl, a bear, and lots of genetic questions. The cover made me extremely curious about the book, but I had NO IDEA what I was in for.

 

When we first meet Dawn, she is in some kind of rage. She seems feral (I word I wrote in my notes after reading the second page and that I now see is used in the description–really, there’s no other way to think of Dawn). She talks about “going dark,” about waking up not knowing where she’s been or how she got there or what on earth is going on with her. She is drawn to a bear that a sketchy neighbor keeps locked up in a cage on his property. Her cold and unsympathetic mother drags her to doctor after doctor, trying to figure out what is wrong with Dawn and how to “fix” her. Is it mental illness? Lyme disease? Drugs? What’s behind Dawn’s strange episodes?

 

Jessie, meanwhile, dances six hours a day, six days a week, and is about to learn to be feral in ways that will disturb, challenge, and ultimately change her. At first devastated to not be chosen to dance in the artistic director’s student showcase piece, she learns to embrace the freedom and wildness that comes from dancing in Vadim’s boundary-pushing piece. The dance is animalistic and “ugly, lustful, lonely,” opening Jessie to a side of herself she’s never considered before.

 

Once Jessie and Dawn’s lives intersect again (they were childhood friends), things become even more interesting. Together they will reminisce about their past and recover memories that felt long gone, as well as uncover secrets and truths. Dawn’s episodes increase and she begins to suspect what may be going on with her, as impossible as her theory seems. And while Jessie doesn’t fully understand what exactly is happening to Dawn, she’s there for her, understanding that no one has ever meant what Dawn has meant to her. 

 

This is absolutely 100% a book about what it means to inhabit a girl’s body. It’s a book about growing up, changing, seeing ourselves, and being seen. It’s about expectations, anger, jealousy, relationships, shame, love, friendship, and support. There is a constant conversation about women and women’s bodies–Jessie, her fellow dancers, Dawn, Dawn’s makeup-selling mother, the girls at the strip club, the men who observe all of them… there is SO MUCH to unpack and think about. Much like Vadim’s dance (which, by the way, I was left sobbing after the description of their performance), this book is experimental and risky. And, like his dance, it is successful and surprising. The metamorphosis each girl undergoes is powerful; Dawn’s is downright shocking. I can’t say enough good things about this strange, disturbing, and extremely compelling look at girlhood, bodies, and identities. Raw, weird, and wonderful. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781467775915

Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group

Publication date: 04/01/2017